By Barbara Barrett

25th Secretary of the Air Force

Rarely in the 1980s did female entrepreneurs dare to found a global startup; rarer still, a complex aviation and medical technology firm. Joan Sullivan Garrett’s courage is just one reason I find her story so compelling. Joan’s bold vision and relentless resolve crushed any obstacles and forged a triumph of a business — MedAire, a trailblazing telemedicine company that spawned a lifesaving industry.
 Along the way, her business day might include mundane office duties or training and outfitting the cabin crew aboard Air Force One.

In 2000, I was one of the judges for the Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Joan was a finalist for the award. What a contender — a self-made business leader and expert on inflight and onboard safety who founded and built a vital global service. Indeed, she won. Joan earned the Entrepreneur of the Year Award for her work as CEO of MedAire, where she revolutionized global aviation safety and more. By then, MedAire was already delivering remote medical, security, and operational support to clients on air, land, and sea. Anywhere in the world, when MedAire’s clients face a medical crisis, they (or their pilot, driver, or ship captain) radio MedAire’s emergency physician for immediate assistance and action.

Joan built upon her pedigree as a third-generation nurse by taking her training to the skies. Previous generations would look up to Joan for her service as a flight nurse, one of medicine’s most harrowing careers. Comparable to war-zone medicine, Joan scrambled for search and rescue operations aboard planes and helicopters from remote deserts to rugged far-flung mountains. Saving lives under grueling conditions takes courage, training, and instinct. Joan implanted an emergency pacemaker to save one patient. She performed medical feats wherever necessary, undaunted even by ice storms or dust storms.

Joan wore her flight suit and worked as an emergency room nurse with the dual role as MedAire CEO before ever taking a MedAire salary. This book captures the sacrifices she made to launch her company and leadership lessons learned under fire. Imagine triaging urgent care patients while building a company with 30% annual growth! Meanwhile, she raised her family, squeezing soccer games amid her whirlwind of trauma centers, travel, presentations, and white papers.

I have followed Joan Garrett’s career with abiding admiration for more than two decades. Recently, at the National Aeronautic Association awards ceremony in Washington, D.C., as 25th Secretary of the Air Force, I applauded the announcement that Joan Garrett would be inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. An outstanding business leader, Joan saves lives by combining her skills as a nurse with the miracle of telemedicine and the reach of aviation.

Like Joan, I encourage young people to pursue their dreams and consider lives of service. One Life Lost, Millions Gained inspires me and will surely inspire future generations of business and medical professionals.

A note from the author

I’m so honored that Barbara Barrett, 25th Secretary of the Air Force, comprising the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force, wrote the Foreword for this book. I first met Barbara when she was a judge for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award in the year 2000, such a polished and accomplished interviewer who put me at ease. Her credentials were legendary even 20+ years ago, yet she seemed impressed with my story of building a multi-million dollar company out of my garage!

I became a recipient of the Award in 2001, followed by other rewards along the way — thanks to my wonderful family, employees, contractors, supporters and mentors who also shaped this one-of-a-kind journey.

Joan Sullivan Garrett, 2001 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award recipient